Anatomy Act

The Anatomy Act (An Act for regulating the Practice of Anatomy, 1869) was precipitated by the disclosure that bodies had been 'mutilated' by medical men in Hobart's General Hospital. Two surgeons had engaged in a competitive quest to obtain the skeleton of William Lanney, the 'last' Tasmanian Aboriginal man. William Lodewyk Crowther removed Lanney's skull from beneath his skin, replacing it with that of Thomas Ross, a patient who had died in the hospital a fortnight before. George Stokell, under instructions from local Royal Society members, removed Lanney's hands and feet and subsequently 'resurrected' the rest of his body from its grave. This scandalous episode resulted in legislation based on the British Anatomy Act (1832). Henceforth, those having lawful possession of the dead could permit their anatomical examination, unless the deceased had objected in life, or their relatives subsequently did so.

Further reading: H MacDonald, Human remains, Melbourne, 2005; S Petrow, 'The Last Man: The mutilation of William Lanne in 1869 and its aftermath', Australian Cultural History 16, 1998, pp 18-44.

Helen MacDonald